Opponent and bidirectional control of movement velocity in the basal ganglia

Nature. 2016 May 19;533(7603):402-6. doi: 10.1038/nature17639. Epub 2016 May 2.


For goal-directed behaviour it is critical that we can both select the appropriate action and learn to modify the underlying movements (for example, the pitch of a note or velocity of a reach) to improve outcomes. The basal ganglia are a critical nexus where circuits necessary for the production of behaviour, such as the neocortex and thalamus, are integrated with reward signalling to reinforce successful, purposive actions. The dorsal striatum, a major input structure of basal ganglia, is composed of two opponent pathways, direct and indirect, thought to select actions that elicit positive outcomes and suppress actions that do not, respectively. Activity-dependent plasticity modulated by reward is thought to be sufficient for selecting actions in the striatum. Although perturbations of basal ganglia function produce profound changes in movement, it remains unknown whether activity-dependent plasticity is sufficient to produce learned changes in movement kinematics, such as velocity. Here we use cell-type-specific stimulation in mice delivered in closed loop during movement to demonstrate that activity in either the direct or indirect pathway is sufficient to produce specific and sustained increases or decreases in velocity, without affecting action selection or motivation. These behavioural changes were a form of learning that accumulated over trials, persisted after the cessation of stimulation, and were abolished in the presence of dopamine antagonists. Our results reveal that the direct and indirect pathways can each bidirectionally control movement velocity, demonstrating unprecedented specificity and flexibility in the control of volition by the basal ganglia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acceleration
  • Animals
  • Basal Ganglia / drug effects
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology*
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopamine Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Learning / drug effects
  • Learning / physiology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Motivation
  • Movement / drug effects
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Neostriatum / drug effects
  • Neostriatum / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Reproducibility of Results


  • Dopamine Antagonists
  • Dopamine